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Lens with benefits: The 5 top sustainable sunglasses brands worth the hype

Photography By Stephanie Cammarano for Szâde, Wires Glasses, Local Supply X Aje, Le Specs
Published 29.10.21

Sunglasses are one of our most worn and seen items in our wardrobe. But have we overlooked their environmental impact? Even though it’s been right in front of our nose all along? Ok, we’ll chill on the puns (maybe).

Sunglasses have a surprisingly long history, but it’s only been in the past eight decades that we’ve really started thinking about how vital they are in protecting us from harsh UV rays. Obviously as the climate changes, that’s more important than ever. But are we as thoughtful about how these products themselves might be impacting the planet? 

The majority of high-end eyewear use traditional “detractive manufacturing” techniques. This means materials are cut away from a material block (usually acetate – i.e. plastic) to leave behind what’s needed for the frame. The leftover materials cut away from the frame are then often thrown away and end up in landfill.  

But increasingly brands are rethinking the status quo to break long-held manufacturing traditions and create better alternatives. Whether they’re making frames out of recycled sunglasses, exploring 3D printing or using plant based materials – these are the sustainable sunglasses brands we suggest investing in this summer.

Le Specs

Le Specs 

You’ve seen them at festivals, in countless stores and shopping centres, and on the faces of high-profile celebrities. There’s no arguing that Le Specs has established a clear foothold in the eyewear industry over the last 15 years. But now it’s adjusting its focus to gaze beyond seasonal trends with its first sustainable collection, Le Sustain.

It took three years to research, develop and test Le Sustain. After trialling cornstarch as a primary material, Le Specs eventually landed on recycled PET water bottles and meadow grass sourced from closed-loop German farms. 

Right now there are 11 Le Sustain styles to choose from, all packaged in a recycled jersey pouch and cardboard box, eliminating all polybags and excess packaging.  

The company is eventually planning on extending this manufacturing process to its entire range. Le Specs creative director Hamish Tame told RIISE that within three years he hopes “it will just be that our [whole] collection is sustainable”.

Childe

Childe

Childe’s eyewear designs are inspired by artists, musicians and activists. The admiration is clearly not one-sided with musicians Big Twisty, Rüfüs Du Sol and Peking Duk, actor Luke Bracey and designer Kym Ellery all being fans of the brand. We assume their interest isn’t just owing to the sophisticated and unique designs, but also the fact they are manufactured using plant-based frame materials.  

The Childe Handmade eyewear collection is made from bio-acetate – natural organic compounds of wood and cotton pulp – which is biodegradable under industrial conditions. And for those of us worried about damaging our frames in the bottom of our bag, these babies have a lifetime guarantee.

Stephanie Cammarano for Szâde

Szâde 
 

Breaking the cycle of excess waste in the industry, Szâde is creating frames from recycled sunglasses, using materials that would otherwise end up in landfill. So in effect it’s not just minimising its impact, it’s cleaning up other people’s rubbish. Defective, faulty and obsolete sunglasses are sent to Szâde, broken down and remoulded to create unique colours in a range of shapes (ever heard of “burnt honey”?). Its ethos is “style, yes. Purpose and integrity, f**k yes”, and we’re happy to see the world through its (recycled) frames.  

Local Supply

Local Supply

From the launch of its first style, aptly named “The Everyday”, in 2013, founder Sean Satha has grown Local Supply from a small business committed to making practical eyewear into a globally recognised brand. In 2020, Local Supply took perhaps its most exciting step yet, transitioning all its designs to plant-based materials and restructuring its operations to minimise the environmental impact of its products.   

“Our slogan is ‘For locals everywhere’ and we want it to be an accessible and inclusive brand. If we came out with plant-based eyewear that was triple the price of what we were selling before, then I think that would send the wrong message,” says Satha. Not only are the sunglasses affordable, Local Supply offers a recycling program that helps you score $30 towards a new pair, giving your old and broken pair a new life.

Lily Cole for Wires Glasses

Wires Glasses

When the co-founder of a brand is climate activist Lily Cole, we get excited. In 2016, designer Yair Neuman broke his sunglasses while travelling; in desperation he hand-made a new pair from a single piece of wire. Inspired by this experiment, Neuman was joined by social entrepreneurs Cole and Kwame Ferreira to found Wires.  

The brand’s 3D-printed rims and lenses are crafted by eyewear specialists in Northern Italy using bio-nylon (a derivative from the castor bean). If that’s not design goals already, the glasses also include a patented invisible hinge that allows them to fold. The entire production process allows Wires to minimise waste on a large scale while making a beautiful product.  

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